Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Favorite 100 Albums of the Decade: 70-61

i’m so hungry i could eat a spaghetti cat. just sayin. ugh, when i’m out of my ito en green tea, the writing gets pretty dry. drier than… my mouth with no green tea in it. sorry bout that. this was such a tragic idea. but i’m pot committed now, i guess. the only way to stop this madness is to give me a job. this is in your hands now, people.

70. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

bitte orca, orca bitte! ahem. where was i? right. Bitte Orca is the sound of an immensely talented band (masterminded by dave longstreth) melding art with heart. their previous LPs were peppered with brilliance but suffocated by conceit (The Getty Address was a “glitch opera” about musician don henley, for example), but with this record they finally allowed their own inclinations to speak for themselves, and the results are always relentlessly intricate, often jangly enough to feel surprisingly organic, and sometimes downright anthemic. “stillness is the move” is one of the most unsuspecting body-movers of the decade, but the whole album darts around with a calculated looseness that is almost as fun and casual as it is deeply brilliant.

69. The Knife - Silent Shout

probably the most foreboding album on this list, Silent Shout is electronica (those dark, twisted, swedish voices…) that makes excellent use of empty space. most of the record feels like an interconnected series of dark alleys punctuated by some flashing neon lights. the whole thing isn’t frightening so much as it’s just chilly… chilly without being cold, and dark without ever being scary. apparently this album also dashed any dreams i had of being a music writer… which is fine because ever since i saw that fucking isopod i haven’t been able to dream about anything else. anyhoo, it’s rare to find electronica that uses the human voice (modified… i hope) as its main weapon, and even rarer to find some that does so this successfully. there’s more of a heartbeat here than in their cover of jose gonzalez’s “heartbeat” - you feel surrounded but can’t help but sing along.

68. The Wrens - Meadowlands

fun fact: i once saw these dudes shove aside the criterion section at the now-defunct columbia university Kim’s and churn out a sick set to… well, me and a few other people. if life gets better than picking up the (then) new Knife in the Water criterion disc while the Wrens blast you with “ex-girl collection,” … i dare life to prove it to me. anyhoo, these grey-haired guys are among the best at adapting the sounds of teenage angst to the more abstract concerns of middle age. straight-up vaguely whiny guitar rock that jams with a masterful poise that never feels contrived. methinks this record possesses a subtle greatness… tear through it too fast and they sound like a generic opening band that missed their shot. but give it a little time and you’ll be amazed at how eager you’ll be to return time and again to a record named after new jersey. which leads me to my next thought - fuck the devils.

67. Dustin O’Halloran - Piano Solos

chalk this one up to sofia coppola. o’halloran’s beautiful etudes are alllll over coppola’s Marie Antoinette, and i mean it as high, HIGH praise when i say they work just as effectively as the Aphex Twin tunes with which they appear on the soundtrack. i’ll admit that i haven’t heard alllll that many classical piano records this decade, so o’halloran definitely has a bit of an edge there, but this endlessly rewarding collection of ditties definitely earned him a spot on this list. the quiet, invariably melancholy melodies sound as if they’ve been excavated from your brain rather than composed… they’re instantly familiar from the first listen but stand up to countless replays without ever feeling obvious or predicated upon a single, tiring idea. o’halloran released a sequel that lacked the same kick.

66. Animal Collective - Feels

home to what remains my favorite animal collective song (“Banshee Beat”), Feels is the record with which the trio let me in. an acquired taste (to put it mildly), it often seems as if animal collective’s tremendous gifts and miraculous chemistry are rivaled only by their desire to subvert them. or at least to… prove that the listener’s interest in some things exceeds their own. the yelps and noodling that are controversially present on all AC albums (save one, kind of) are certainly present here, but epic soundscapes like “daffy duck” share a mutually enriching dynamic with the more traditionally structured songs around them that resolve themselves into a complete experience in a way i feel records like Sung Tongs and Here Comes the Indian don’t quite. i dunno, maybe it’s a mood thing…

65. The Strokes - Is This It?

you just can’t deny this album, and i’ve tried. i didn’t want to try, but Room on Fire made me try. these guys are the one-note wonders of the decade. but i when i listen to this record now i hear the same thing i did when i first heard it on 9/11/01: unadulterated awesomeness. if this thing dropped today it would earn the same heat… great songs that sound too tossed off to be true always get the kids a-crazy. it’s the musical incarnation of girls liking d-bags. and man did this thing spawn an avalanche of crappy imitators (the best of whom was a band called The Strokes). every song is like a party you weren’t cool enough to be invited to, and julian casablanca’s modulated vocals do a fine job of marrying the wheeze of drug-rock with, um, “the modern age.” zing. still hungry, people. seamless web… you know the drill.

64. Destroyer - Destroyer’s Rubies

dan bejar is like dashboard confessional for the New Yorker set. hyper-nasal, hyper-literate multi-instrumentalist rock that is propelled by a single vision, Destroyer’s Rubies is the album on which bejar best marries his penchant for novelistic lyrics to theme and timbre. from the epic first track to more concise bits like “painter in your pocket,” this is the only Destroyer album on which the music always works with the lyrics rather then distracts from them. fun fact: i once sold bejar a pair of shitty headphones without once looking up, only realizing who it was when i read his credit card. at which point i looked at his face, said “what?” and watched as he walked away confused. they all lived unemployed ever after. well, except dan bejar.

63. Atlas Sound - Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel

ohh bradford cox… the greatest artist with marfan syndrome in the history of indie rock? in the history of all of music? i think so. the mop-headed man-boy with the accentuated neck and concave chest (and blog where he accidentally leaks his own albums when not showing kiddie porn) didn’t blow me away with his first album fronting Deerhunter, but when he took up the mantle of Atlas Sound and tossed aside the fuzz for some (fuzzy) bleeps and bloops… shit got real. the relatively subdued affair is cox at his most expressive, and the circular swirls and echo chamber vocals make the whole thing positively hypnotic. his 2nd LP under the Atlas Sound moniker - Logos - is pretty glorious, too.

62. Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit

belle and sebastian - among the most unlikely and most enjoyable indie successes of the 1990s - kept churning out bubbly, sexually frustrated, bits of twee awesomeness with remarkable consistency straight through the aughts. and their most recent LP, The Life Pursuit, is among their very best (if not quite up there with Tigermilk or If You’re Feeling Sinister), filled with delightful, head-bopping melodies coated with stuart murdoch’s deceptively carefree (and not deceptively scottish) vocals. a belle and sebastian LP tends to only be as good as is characters, and from Sookie in the graveyard to the unnamed “White Collar Boy,” The Life Pursuit is stuffed with some of their richest portraits yet. by this point in their career, the be-scarfed gang have a complete mastery over their sound, and continue to discover jubilant ways of never repeating themselves. that being said, the biggest surprise on this record might be when they bring the lights down for a second on “Act of the Apostle II” and actually strike a nerve, infusing the bouncy songs that follow with an instant touch of poignancy it used to take them entire albums to achieve.

61. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

oh arcade fire. the great white canadian indie hopes (who aren’t broken social scene). the versatility and sheer virtuosity of their landmark debut Funeral made listeners the sort of promises that more single-minded arrivals like Vampire Weekend or The Futureheads never could… never intended to. it was clear The Arcade Fire could do pretty much anything they wanted to with their sophomore record… which apparently included aping bruce springsteen. the latter half of this record (until the bombastic couplet that finishes it off) consists of genuine blue-collar war cries straight outta… Montreal. when heard in context with the orchestral, sonically demanding and gravitas-laden first half, the later songs feel like the day-to-day symptoms of the metaphysical agonies Win Butler and co. are swamped by like thick oil in earlier tracks “Black Mirror” and “Intervention.” speaking of “intervention,” that’s some pretty wicked rock church organ they’ve got going on there. anyhoo, these guys wisely stepped sideways instead of on their own feet, and barring over-bloated misstep “no cars go,” they proved that who they are is almost as good as who they were supposed to be.

Cross-posted from The Ecstatic Truth.

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